Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 4,000


 Sir Joseph Mawbey, Bt.1034
7 Nov. 1794 SIR JOHN FREDERICK, Bt., vice Finch, deceased 
22 Feb. 1806 RUSSELL re-elected after appointment to office 
 Samuel Thornton246
13 May 1807SAMUEL THORNTON1471
 Lord William Russell838
 Sir Thomas Turton, Bt.1017
22 Nov. 1813 SAMUEL THORNTON vice Sutton, deceased1133
 Sir Thomas Turton, Bt.508

Main Article

Lady Spencer remarked, in 1806, apropos of Surrey politics, ‘One can never be certain of the ground one treads on in such sort of neighbourhood to London and where property is so sub-divided’.1 Soon after the unopposed election of the Whig 5th Duke of Bedford’s brother in 1789, George Sumner, a nabob’s son, was prepared to take up the cudgels on behalf of Pitt’s administration. Sir Gilbert Elliot commented:

It is thought a strong measure to start a young nabob for a county who generally like old families. This Sumner, at a meeting in Surrey lately asked ‘who are these Russells?’ He was talking of the Duke of Bedford’s family.2

Sumner was not adopted. Was it out of pique that he challenged the established interests of the lord lieutenant Onslow and Lord Grantley at Guildford instead?

The grandees well disposed to government were, however, prepared to challenge Russell. Overlooking the pretensions of Benjamin Bond Hopkins*, they agreed to support Capt. Finch, who had purchased his brother the 4th Earl of Aylesford’s property at Albury. He declared on 21 June 1790, as a friend of the ministry. His success was financed out of the secret service fund to the tune of £4,548 17s. As the other sitting Member, Sir Joseph Mawbey, was also a supporter of Pitt, Finch looked to a coalition with him to exclude the Whig Russell, but he was disappointed. Mawbey was a Southwark politician, who resented Finch’s intrusion and refused to coalesce, though Sumner’s friends gave him their second vote. The show of hands was against him on 25 June and he was ousted by Finch. He reproached Pitt bitterly for this fiasco. Russell’s supporters had provided him with over 1,200 plumpers, and, to secure him for the future, launched an association at Kennington in July 1791 ‘to preserve the independency of the county’. The Southwark Whig Club was enlisted ‘to secure the county of Surrey from Tory influence’.3

In the event, an uneasy compromise operated from 1790 until 1806. There were only six dissentient voices to the loyal petition to the King in June 1792 at a county meeting at Epsom. Russell disliked it, but swallowed it: opposition was led by the alienated Mawbey and by the radical John Horne Tooke*. On Finch’s death in 1794 it was a renegade Whig, Sir John Frederick, who came in unopposed on a platform of support for the war against revolutionary France. Russell got the upper hand in presenting a petition of over 6,000 signatures against coercive legislation in December 1795, but there were some 2,000 dissenters from it. There was fighting language but no contest in 1796. In April 1797 Russell carried a petition for the dismissal of ministers at a meeting attended by a number of prominent politicians whose homes were in Surrey, but the sheriff refused to sign it. Yet the election of 1802 passed quietly.4

Russell’s hold over Surrey was maintained by other Whig proprietary interests combined with the freeholders of the metropolitan fringe, but when in June 1806 he resolved to dispose of his Streatham property, the 6th Duke of Bedford thought that his brother could no longer with propriety offer again for the county. He sounded his colleague in the Grenville ministry, Earl Spencer, as to the possibility of putting up his son Althorp. Spencer intended Althorp for Northamptonshire. Lord Grenville offered to support Lord King’s brother, on whose behalf King declined, adding:

I fear there will be some difficulty in finding a proper person to represent Surrey unless Lord William Russell stands again—he might perhaps be elected without difficulty from his former connection with the county.5

So it was that Russell stood again. Difficulties were made for him by George Sumner who, without consulting him, vindictively proposed Samuel Thornton of the Clapham sect, the purchaser of Finch’s Albury estate, then contesting Hull. In the ensuing contest Russell, who was gratified by Earl Spencer’s exertions for him around Wimbledon and Wandsworth and received Lord Grenville’s support, led the field after two days. Thornton’s sponsors wished to see him oust Russell, but he had no objection to him and certainly did not wish to unseat his friend Frederick. He had no hope of overtaking Russell and every probability of displacing Frederick. He therefore ‘thought proper to decline’, not finding ‘sufficient ground of objection to the line of political conduct’ of the sitting Members ‘to warrant the giving of them, and the county, the trouble of a contest’. Thereupon the sheriff, by consent of the parties, returned Russell and Frederick, ‘without any notice being taken of it in the House of Commons or elsewhere’.6

Thornton, defeated at Hull, immediately canvassed privately for the next vacancy, applying to Earl Spencer and to Lord Grenville for Lord King’s support, ‘as I should be averse to accept it without the good wishes of the leading nobility and gentry of the county’. Frederick made it a point of honour to withdraw in Thornton’s favour in 1807. This encouraged Russell to believe that he might cling to his seat, coming in unopposed with Thornton. He had ‘not a freehold in Surrey’ by now and his brother the duke, with a contest for Bedfordshire on his hands, was averse to expenditure on ‘an object so wholly unconnected with family interests’, when an opponent to Russell emerged. This was George Sumner, defeated at Guildford, who was happy to drop his petition against the return there in exchange for the support of Lords Onslow and Grantley for the county. On 11 May Tierney informed Lord Howick: ‘Sumner opposes Lord William in Surrey, but, if the duke will furnish the money, there is not I believe anything to be apprehended’. A week later he admitted that his complacency was unwarranted:

Lord William Russell has lost Surrey entirely by his own negligence and want of nerve. He was so confident in the first instance that there would be no opposition to him that he made no preparations whatever, and afterwards when the cry of ‘No Popery’, which was very strong, was set up, he sunk under it and was quite incapable of exertion.

The duke estimated his expenses at £4,000; Sumner was aided by a subscription of ‘monied’ men. In his farewell address, 17 May, Russell pointed out two factors that reinforced his defeat: Thornton’s monopoly of the carriages between London and Surrey and the disposition of Thornton’s friends to give Sumner their second votes. Thornton had offered alone, without reference to party, and it was paradoxical that his friends supported Sumner, an outspoken critic of the Grenville ministry and an anti-abolitionist, whereas Thornton, one of the ‘Saints’, was a prominent opponent of the slave trade.7

When Thornton got into financial difficulties in 1811 and sold Albury, it was expected that Charles Rose Ellis* of Claremont would offer, but Ellis was not enthusiastic. Whig hopes were raised, but Sir Thomas Turton, Member for Southwark, who was first in the field on Thornton’s retirement in 1812, had radical leanings and was not the answer to their prayers. He boasted that he would be put to no expense, thanks to a subscription. He was challenged by Sir Thomas Sutton, a friend of Lord Moira, who was thought acceptable to moderate opinion on both sides—he was nominated by Viscount Cranley and seconded by Sir John Frederick. He would not risk a contest until he was assured that Turton would not be supported by the Duke of Norfolk’s purse, and he had Earl Spencer’s goodwill as well as most of Sumner’s second votes.8 Turton, proposed by Sir Joseph Mawbey, 2nd Bt., and seconded by Sir Mark Wood threatened to poll to the end, but gave up after trailing for nine days and after 3,294 votes had been cast. Most of his support came from the Vauxhall end and he received 473 plumpers, sharing 458 voters with Sutton and only 86 with Sumner. Sumner got 944 plumpers and shared 893 voters with Sutton, who received 440 plumpers.

On Sutton’s death in 1813, Turton renewed his challenge. Thornton agreed to oppose him, unless the well-to-do William Joseph Denison of Denbies (the Whig who had defeated him at Hull in 1806) wished to offer. Denison who had the Duke of Norfolk’s support demurred and Thornton easily defeated Turton, who ceded after four days.9 It was understood by 1816 that Denison would offer at the next opportunity and that ‘many of the Tories’ would accept a compromise. Their wish was gratified in 1818, when Thornton withdrew and let in Denison. Charles Barclay* declined to disturb the arrangement: Surrey had once more succeeded in keeping its distance from Southwark.10

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Spencer mss, Lady to Ld. Spencer, 5 Nov. 1806.
  • 2. Minto, i. 298.
  • 3. Public Advertiser, 16, 22, 26, 28 June 1, July 1790; PRO 30/8/156, f. 245; Ginter, Whig Organization, 196; Morning Chron. 5 July 1791.
  • 4. Minto, ii. 42; Portland mss PwF7710; True Briton, 16, 20, 21, 28 May 1796; Morning Chron. 12 Apr. 1797; The Times, 14 July 1802.
  • 5. Spencer mss, Bedford to Spencer, 21 June, reply 25 June; Fortescue mss, King to Grenville, 19 Aug. 1806.
  • 6. Spencer mss, Thornton to Spencer, 7 Nov., Russell to same, 8 Nov. 1806; HMC Fortescue, viii. 422; Morning Post, 6 Nov. 1806; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iv. 575.
  • 7. Fortescue mss, Thornton to Grenville, 7 Nov. 1806; Spencer mss, Thornton to Spencer, 27 Apr., Russell to same, 28 Apr. 1807; HMC Fortescue, ix. 136; Blair Adam mss, Bedford to Adam, 10 May, 14 June; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 11, 18 May; Brougham mss 34185; Morning Post, 19 May; Morning Chron. 20 May 1807.
  • 8. Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey [5 Nov. 1811]; Haddington mss, Ellis to Binning, 21 Jan. 1812; Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville, 22 Oct. 1811; Morning Chron. 9 Oct.; Spencer mss, Harrison to Spencer, 1 Oct.; Arundel Castle mss, Moira to Norfolk, 18 Oct. 1812.
  • 9. Spencer mss, Lady to Ld. Spencer, 8 Nov. 1813.
  • 10. The Late Elections (1818), 335-41.